This past July, the N.H. Psychological Association (NHPA) made history with the passage of House Bill 1508, creating an independent board for psychologists. Previously, Granite State psychologists belonged to the Board of Mental Health Practice (BMHP), which included social workers, pastoral counselors, marriage and family therapists and other mental health disciplines.
Kathryn E. Saylor, Psy.D., executive director of the NHPA says that in recent years, structural changes and some questionable practices by the BMHP raised concern and prompted an audit by the Joint Legislative Committee on Rules (JLCAR). She says, “JLCAR found something wrong with the rules that were detrimental to practitioners and clients.”
During its audit, the Joint Legislative Committee on Rules discovered that complaints, which could be filed anonymously against a psychologist, were duly investigated by the BMHP, but the findings were kept under wraps, according to Saylor. “The practitioner didn’t see the report before getting sanctioned, but had to agree to a penalty.”
With two grants from the American Psychological Association Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice, the NHPA ramped up advocacy efforts, educating colleagues at continuing education events and public hearings and issuing information via the professional listserv, says Michael Phillips, Ph.D., president of LaMora Psychological Associates, P.A. in Nashua and ad hoc committee member. “We had an extensive grassroots effort. We contacted state representatives and multiple psychologists did a blitz at multiple times,” he says.
Phillips explains that one of the basic problems with the BMHP’s investigative process involved the failure to create standardized procedures. “They aspired to do a good process, but they’d have a dramatically different approach on investigations,” he says, noting that the BMHP follows the advice of the attorney general’s office, which operates with a “prosecutorial mindset.” An independent board will include only psychologists, but represent several different psychological niche areas, Phillips says.
While psychologists will benefit from an independent board, clients will also reap rewards. Phillips notes that previously, some psychologists refused difficult cases such as custody evaluations, parenting assessments and complex multiple diagnoses, fearing these cases could be a liability. He adds that the omnibus board structure also impacted N.H.’s ability to attract psychologists to the state, which is already experiencing a dearth of clinicians. “[An independent board] will help create an environment where psychologists will want to practice,” he says, offering more access to mental health care for patients.
“This is beneficial to psychologists because it ensures that psychologists are regulated by members of their own discipline with similar training and experiences who are familiar with the psychologists’ rules of ethics. In our former omnibus structure, psychologists had one representative on the board. However, with the new independent board, we will have five psychologist representatives. With more representation, psychological practice is better regulated. This is vitally important for our clients,” says Saylor. “We don’t want to stop collaborating with the other disciplines, but it’s important to be governed by our own discipline.”
The new legislation goes into effect in July 2013 and will also include three public members.
By Phyllis Hanlon